A Companion in Solitude

Chapter 5

The Short guard looked at his watch while leaning against the wall of the corridor. He had tried whistling, but it only made him lonely and more uneasy. At about the time he had decided to check on his comrade, he heard the quick footsteps of the Fat guard around the bend. He let out a sigh of relief. He'd heard about the happenings at the end of the hall, and he wasn't about to try his luck.

"So, what was the trouble? What was she going on about?" he questioned as the Fat guard approached. The man was red-faced and bit short of breath. "Did she get you? I heard she's a tricky one."

"A pen," was all he managed to say before he had to pause to breathe. It was almost as if he had been chased down the corridor.

"A pen?"

"Yes." The Fat one took a final deep breath and reached in his pocket for a cigarette. He had been trying to quit, but a trip down the hall certainly warranted a cig.

"Like a writing utensil?"

The Fat one stopped mid-puff and stared at the Short one. "Yes, a pen! An object with which to write. Like a pencil, but not. I can use it in a sentence if you'd like!"

"No need to get cross. You could have meant p-i-n. Like a fastening pin…or a broach. Something fancy, maybe with jewels….."

"Oh, bloody hell, would you just shut up!" he shouted to the curious guard, then mumbling. "It's not enough I have to deal with the prisoner, but I have to work with a fucking In-Betweener, too? And not even the smart one…."

"What was that?" the Short one asked.

"Nothing…" The Fat one dropped his cigarette to the ground and screwed it into the floor with the toe of his boot. "Listen, she's in a right mood, that one. I say we leave her alone until breakfast. Let's grab some food and watch come classic shows on the telly. I heard about this one where a man flies through space in a phone booth. Can you believe that?"

The two men began walking back to their post. "I heard it was police box," the Short one replied. "And that he really exists."

"No, it was definitely a phone booth, and you'd have to be rather daft to believe a man could live in a booth of any kind, really. Where does he piss?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's bigger on the inside," the Short one reasoned. "Hey , you think we should take her a pen?"

"I'm not taking her a pen!" the Fat one snarled. "You take her a pen."

The Short one stopped. His curiosity had a tendency to get the better of him, and more often than not, led him down a path to trouble. He did have a pen to spare, right there in his pocket.

The Fat one saw him contemplate his options and felt the need to intervene. "You ever wonder about the guy who had your job before you? Yeah, well, he went down there to take a letter."

The Short one put one foot in front of the other and kept that pace beside the Fat one until they were clear of the containment cells altogether.

As the guards made their way back to their post, crashing noises and swearing could be heard throughout the corridor from the very end of the row of cells. The guard had walked up on a dangerous scene - that much was undeniable. One good thing about having a containment facility to oneself is that one could make all the noise one wanted and not have to explain talking to oneself. And River was making a helluva racket and talking plenty enough.

The bed was disassembled, and the linens thrown about from corner to corner. There were clothes scattered on the floor and across the sparse furniture. A bookshelf was turned over, and a collection of small boxes had been emptied of their contents in a heap on the floor. She stepped around and over the mess to the desk near the far wall, careful not to step on any of the trinkets she had collected from her travels.

"I can track a gangly man in a tiny blue box through the universe, but I am completely unable to locate a sodding pen!" River exclaimed as she rummaged through the few items in her desk drawers. Tears were making it difficult to see, but she was on a mission. She had to record the latest events in her diary while they were fresh in her mind. The task would be difficult enough as it was, with the feeling and taste of him on her lips still. The sound of the TARDIS was even still ringing through her ears…and seemingly getting louder. She looked into the corridor to see the blue box materialize.

The door flew open, and the Doctor rushed out as if shot from a cannon. He was disheveled and more awkward than usual. He looked around, flailed his arms about, spun quickly and shot back through the door, growling as he went. "Oh, bloody hell!" And the TARDIS squealed from sight.

River stood there, staring into the hall, wondering if she had somehow conjured up the odd vision of the man who continued to cause her such gut-wrenching emotion. If for no other reason, she hated him for making her cry. Crying was for girls…and guards.

She twirled suddenly as the TARDIS noise seemed even louder than before. It came into focus less than two feet in front her, and its pilot ran out before it had even stopped screeching. River - not expecting such an explosive exit - and the Doctor – forgetting he had landed in a tiny containment cell – collided when he bounded through the door. They both lay sprawled amid the mess on the floor. River was buried under arms and knees. His head was draped over her shoulder and rested on the floor. He lay so still, River half-expected him to regenerate on top of her. "Doctor?"

"Yes?"

"What are you doing?"

"Oh, I couldn't be better, me. Wait, what am I doing. Just…umm...doing a little traveling. Catching up on some unfinished business. You know….Time Lordy things…ends all loose and what-not." The Doctor continued to lay there. He'd begun to think he'd knocked himself a little unconscious when he hit his head on the TARDIS door as he ran out. Or maybe he'd hit it on the floor when they fell. Probably couldn't be pinpointed. "How are you?"

"Same ole, same ole. Blanketed by a tall, lean Time Lord on the floor of my cell. Almost run over by spaceship. You know…just another day at the stormcage."

"You should get out more often."

"That's what I keep telling them."

"Well, you keep at it. If anyone can break prison tradition, it's you...yes, indeed."

They continued to lay on the floor, neither moving.

"Doctor?"

"Yes, River?"

"Are we taking cover, or is it safe to get up now?"

"Well, you can never really tell, can you? Safety, I mean. I suppose I could have done an environment check before I left the TARDIS…" he mumbled, his face still planted on the ground, "but I was in a bit of a hurry. Loose ends…"

"Yeah, you said." She wiggled out from under a painfully placed knee. "I'm going to get up now," she advised. She had to slither out from under him, one appendage after another hitting the concrete floor with a thud as she got free.

She looked down at the lanky body lifeless on the floor. "Take as much time as you need, yeah? Don't mind me. I'll try to keep the excitement to a minimum." She turned back to the desk, less enraged yet more unnerved. And then she saw it.

On the top of the desk, minding its own business, lay her pen. She braced her arms against the chair and exhaled. She couldn't stop the few tears from streaming down her face. She heard the Doctor come to life in the middle of the pen search-and-rescue fiasco and sensed his height as he stood behind her.

"Looks like the excitement has come and gone here in number 46. Had to let housekeeping go, I see?" he joked as he tried to find a place to step. Unsuccessful, he remained behind her.

"So, umm, what was that, River?"

She was looking for a way to wipe her wet face without being obvious. "What was what?" She sniffed as softly as she could, thankful that he couldn't see the jumble of emotions on her face.

"Don't, River. I still feel you…"he said quietly.

"Oh, the kiss?" She tried to make light of it. "Nothing really. I guess I just got caught up in the moment. Winding down from the day." She tried to will the fresh tears from welling but failed miserably. "Just an innocent kiss. Don't fret over it, Sweetie."

"Innocent?" He walked closer to her, close enough to see her hair blow as he exhaled. "I'm sure I have marks on my back to prove otherwise."

He brushed the curls aside to place a kiss on her neck. She spun around quickly as he said, "Wait a minute. How'd you change clothes so fast?"

"What in the hell are you going on about!" She was so stunned by the intimacy of his touch that she had forgotten her secret mourning.

"Hey," he whispered. "River, why are you crying?"

"I'm not."

"You are, too."

"I am not crying."

"You most certainly are crying," he insisted. He started waving his long fingers about her face. "I can see it there…and there…and right there close to you ear….."

She hung her head so that her chin rested on her chest. "Please, Doctor. Just get back in the TARDIS and take Amy and Rory somewhere fantastical. They deserve a holiday." She stepped around him and returned her bed frame to its functioning position. "Just anywhere but here, please."

"Amy and Rory are on holiday – for over a week now. Remember? Married sex away from the Big Brother?" He helped her arrange her mattress back on the frame, while taking the opportunity to examine her head.

"Doctor…what….get your hands off my head!" She turned around and looked at him with riddled eyes. "What are you doing?"

"Checking for swelling. I think you hit your head on impact. You may have a brain injury," he replied, reaching up and examining her eyes, pulling her eyelids up and down. He searched in his pocket for his screwdriver. "Brains are very serious business."

"If you shine that screwdriver in my face, I will arrange your legs to carry you backwards and your feet to face forward for the rest of your days in that awkward body of yours. Now, I've just about had enough."

"What were you talking about earlier? The kiss?" He interrupted.

River sidestepped him and began returning her belongings to some order.

"Your first," she could barely get the words out. Her eyes were cast downward and threatened once again to well up. "My last."

"Oh, River….." He answered too softly to hear, realizing his mistake. He walked over to her and encircled her in a comforting embrace. She buried her face on his shoulder and let the tears fall silently.

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